It’s tempting to add lots of active ingredients into your skincare routine but it’s not always needed and, in some cases, can cause a whole host of issues for your skin. For example, do you need to include both vitamin c and niacinamide in your routine?
If you’re trying to keep your skincare routine minimal (your skin will thank you) then you might want to stick with one, at least to begin with. So, what’s the difference between vitamin c vs niacinamide and which one is better suited to your skin?
Here’s everything you need to know…
*This article contains affiliate links which means that I may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you) on anything purchased through these links – you can read more about affiliate links in the affiliate disclaimer*
Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in your skin and is essential for the production of collagen.
More collagen = plumper, younger looking skin.
As well as it’s excellent anti-aging benefits, vitamin C also:
- Reduces dark marks and brightens skin by preventing the activity of the enzymes required for melanin production.
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces blood vessel dilation and facial redness
- Prevents the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria (the type that cause skin infections and acne)
- Some derivatives of vitamin c can improve the appearance of acne
- Improves skin texture
- Prevents premature skin aging (when used with sunscreen) by neutralising free radicals (substances that damage DNA and break down collagen and elastin)
Best Vitamin C Products:
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (best for antioxidant protection and best overall vitamin C serum)
Dermalogica Biolumen C (best for brightening)
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum (best for acne)
Niacinamide is also known as vitamin B3 and is another antioxidant with a wide-variety of benefits, including:
- Boosting collagen production
- Improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Helping to prevent premature aging (alongside sunscreen)
- Reduces dark marks and brightens skin by preventing the spread of pigment from your melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) to your skin cells (keratinocytes)
- Strengthening your skin barrier by encouraging the natural production of ceramides
- Hydrating skin
- Improving acne
- Calming inflammation and improving facial redness (e.g. rosacea)
Best Niacinamide Products:
Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Serum (best for hyperpigmentation)
Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum (best for acne)
Stratia Rewind (best for hydrating/moisturizing)
Vitamin C vs Niacinamide
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities in the skin benefits offered by vitamin C vs niacinamide but there are also a number of ways that they differ.
One example is how they brighten your skin. Vitamin C prevents the activity of an enzyme that is essential for the melanin production process (tyrosinase) while niacinamide prevents the spread of existing melanin from your melanin producing cells (melanocytes) to your surrounding skin cells.
Both vitamin C and niacinamide increase the natural production of ceramides in your skin which helps to strengthen your skin barrier, keep your skin hydrated, and reduce irritation. However, niacinamide is probably the better option for sensitive skin as it’s usually gentler than vitamin C.
One of the biggest issues with vitamin C is that it is notoriously unstable in its active form (ascorbic acid) and is easily degraded by light and air. In contrast, niacinamide is a very stable ingredient which makes it easier to store and use.
There are a wide-range of vitamin C derivatives (e.g. sodium ascorbyl phosphate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, etc.) but there’s less research to support their benefits.
Both vitamin C vs niacinamide are effective when it comes to improving the signs of sun damage and skin aging, although, as vitamin C is essential for collagen production, it probably has the upper hand.
One area where niacinamide excels over vitamin C is in its ability to treat acne.
Research has shown that niacinamide can significantly reduce inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne over an eight-week period. It’s also more effective at treating acne than a commonly used topical antibiotic (clindamycin).
Plus, niacinamide at strengths as low as 2% can reduce oiliness in as little as two-weeks of use.
However, the fact that niacinamide and vitamin C can both strengthen your skin barrier may indirectly improve acne as acne is associated with skin barrier damage and reduced ceramide levels.
There’s also research to suggest that sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), a vitamin C derivative, is effective at treating acne. Although, there have been anecdotal reports of people experiencing breakouts after using vitamin C serums.
Can You Use Vitamin C and Niacinamide Together?
If you can’t decide between vitamin c vs niacinamide, the good news is that you don’t have to!
Contrary to popular belief, it’s even ok to layer them together one after the other. Let’s get into why that is…
There seem to be two main concerns when it comes to combining vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) and niacinamide together:
- Niacinamide may increase the pH of ascorbic acid and therefore make it less effective
- Acidic ingredients, like ascorbic acid, may convert niacinamide to niacin (nicotinic acid)
Will Niacinamide Reduce The Effectiveness of Ascorbic Acid?
First things first, your skin’s natural surface pH is slightly acidic with a pH level anywhere between 4.7 – 6.0. Any skincare product you apply to your skin has to adjust to this pH and is usually formulated with this in mind.
When you hear people talk about differing pH levels in skincare, it’s usually a misunderstanding about how skin care product formulation works. For example, an ascorbic acid product will be more effective if the formula has a pH of 3.5 or less, NOT if your skin has a pH of 3.5 or less.
As niacinamide has a similar pH to your skin, it won’t make ascorbic acid any less effective than your own skin would.
The issue of pH differences only becomes a problem when formulating products that contain niacinamide and ascorbic acid together.
Will Ascorbic Acid Convert Niacinamide To Niacin?
Niacin may be as effective as niacinamide, but it activates your skin’s immune system (Langerhan cells) which leads to the release of substances (prostaglandins) that increase inflammation and blood flow to your skin.
This facial reddening is often referred to as ‘niacin flush’ and can cause an uncomfortable or tingling sensation.
Many people avoid layering niacinamide and glycolic acid for this reason. However, niacinamide is a very stable ingredient and it takes a very low pH, a very high heat, and a long time to convert niacinamide to niacin in laboratory experiments.
Vitamin C vs Niacinamide – The Bottom Line
If you’re trying to decide whether to include vitamin C vs niacinamide into your skincare routine, the good news is that you don’t have to decide between the two as they can work well when paired together – particularly when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation.
However, if you’re trying to keep your skincare routine minimal, either would make a great addition to your routine. If you’re prone to acne, then you’ll probably be better off with niacinamide but for everything else either ingredient can be effective.
At the end of the day, it’s really down to which ingredient you prefer.